SAARC summit to open amid tight security
The 13th SAARC summit opens in Bangladesh today amid unprecedented security after a series of bomb attacks.Updated: Nov 12, 2005 11:06 IST
A summit of south Asian nations opens in Bangladesh on Saturday amid unprecedented security after a series of bomb attacks linked to a group calling for the imposition of Islamic law.
More than 30,000 troops have been deployed specifically for the summit in the capital Dhaka where police have been on high alert since the blasts in August and October that killed five people.
Small bombs were detonated almost simultaneously across the country that also injured several hundred people. Police linked the outlawed Jamayetul Mujahideen to the attacks with leaflets calling for the imposition of strict Islamic law found at many of the blast sites.
The 13th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) on Saturday and Sunday will be attended by leaders of member countries Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
"Never before in our history has the country seen such a security arrangement," said Bangladesh national police chief Abdul Kaiyum.
Bangladesh's elite President's Guard Regiment took over security at the capital's airport earlier in the week while troops have been posted on key streets and road blocks erected along routes to the summit venues.
"It's almost like (a) curfew because we don't want to leave anything to chance," said one police officer.
Last week police rounded up Dhaka's beggars and vagrants who were being detained in another part of the city during the summit. Police said they feared terrorists would try to use vagrants to disrupt the talks.
During the summit, leaders are expected to agree to set up a regional disaster preparedness centre in New Delhi and the implementation of a previously agreed South Asian Free Trade Agreement. Strategies for combating terrorism are also expected to top the agenda.
SAARC was founded amid much optimism in 1985 to forge economic solidarity and boost living standards among the region's 1.4 billion people.
South Asia is home to half the world's poor with 40 percent living on less than a dollar a day, according to the World Bank.
Critics, however, have dismissed it as a talking shop rendered ineffective by regional bickering and mistrust.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has said she hoped the Dhaka summit would mark a new chapter in SAARC's history and see it begin to deliver results for the people of South Asia.
"For Bangladesh, it (the 13th summit) marks the commencement of a third cycle of summits in which the focus will be on implementation rather than declarations," she said in a statement released on Friday.
"We the South Asian nations must take advantage of our natural and human resources, strong cultural and historical linkage and our common desire to move forward in improving the quality of life of our peoples," she said.
The summit was originally planned from January 9-11 but was cancelled because of the Asian tsunami disaster.
Rescheduled for February, it was postponed again at the last minute after India decided not to attend.
First Published: Nov 12, 2005 11:06 IST